Health & Wellbeing

Residue from detergents left on dishes could harm gut health

Residue from detergents left on dishes could harm gut health
Researchers used new organoid technology to model the effects of dishwashing chemicals on gut cells
Researchers used new organoid technology to model the effects of dishwashing chemicals on gut cells
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Researchers used new organoid technology to model the effects of dishwashing chemicals on gut cells
Researchers used new organoid technology to model the effects of dishwashing chemicals on gut cells

New research is questioning the safety of certain chemicals used in dishwashing detergents after intestinal cell models revealed high doses of components in rinse aids can damage gut health.

Commercial dishwashers are designed for maximum efficiency, blasting dirty dishes with detergent and then a rinse aid across two quick cycles lasting a couple of minutes using minimal water. A new study, from a team of international researchers, investigated exactly how much chemical residue is left on dishes after these commercial dishwashers complete a cycle, and what effects these chemicals could have on human gut tissue.

“What’s especially alarming is that in many appliances, there’s no additional wash cycle to remove the remaining rinse aid,” said study lead Cezmi Akdis, director of the Swiss Institute of Allergy and Asthma Research at the University of Zurich. “This means that potentially toxic substances remain on the dishes, where they then dry in place."

Using new organoid technology, which allows researchers to generate three-dimensional cellular structures resembling a variety of human organs, the effects of different detergent chemicals on the gut were studied. The results revealed the chemicals caused distinct alterations to genes, "involved in cell survival, epithelial barrier, cytokine signaling, and metabolism."

Homing in on the specific chemicals causing the damage, the researchers identified the culprit to be alcohol ethoxylates. These chemicals are often used in detergents and surface cleaners to help displace debris from household objects.

Prior research has found alcohol ethoxylates to be non-toxic to human cells and no evidence has been found to suggest alcohol ethoxylates are carcinogenic or mutagenic. This is the first research to indicate alcohol ethoxylates could have a deleterious effect on gut cells.

In terms of residual chemical concentrations on dishes, the researchers found the greatest damage on gut cells came from alcohol ethoxylates in rinse aid at dilutions of 1:10,000. The study notes domestic dishwashers tend to use a little more water and longer washing cycles with dilution factors calculated at 1:80,000. So the researchers are more concerned with short-cycle commercial dishwashers that have dilution factors as small as 1:2,000.

It's important to note that any actual damage to a human gut is still hypothetical at this point. According to Akdis, the effect of alcohol ethoxylates on intestinal cells seen in the research could plausibly trigger a number of inflammatory diseases in humans.

“The effect that we found could mark the beginning of the destruction of the gut’s epithelial layer and trigger the onset of many chronic diseases,” said Akdis. “It is important to inform the public about this risk, since alcohol ethoxylates seem to be commonly used in commercial dishwashers.”

Ultimately the researchers suggest an urgent need for further research into the health effects of alcohol ethoxylates. And while it may be tricky for individuals to evaluate chemical residue on dishes in commercial contexts such as restaurants it is possible to make sure dishes at home are rinsed free of detergent residues.

The new study was published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Source: University of Zurich

Why does one need rinse aids to start with? I live in an area wher most of the water supply comes from borewell. The TDS reading hovers around 1000. So after doing dishes by hand I simply wipe them dry. Once in a while may mis spot which leaves a hard water stain which will disappear next time around. In any case Swedish research has determined that doing dishes by hand improves one's resistance to pathogens by 60%. One just needs to be a bit less lazy. Same for clothes drying. Hanging them out to dry in the sun is the best way to sterilise them.
Brian M
Suspect the risk would also depend on what type of food is then served on the dishes, for example soup 'wet' dishes such as curry, gravy and drinks might be riskier than say drier food such as fried chicken and chips,

If nothing else, will stop licking the plate in restruants!
What would be the problem with using a final rinse cycle with hot water while the dishes are still wet.
Late Boomer
Heated hard water + dishwasher detergents = etched glassware
I thought I saw that here a few months back.
Dirk Scott
Does anybody actually use rinse aid? Once the free bottle which comes with dishwasher was finished I never bought another. I would bet actual sales are very low.
One thing I always do when I see stuff like this is to (a) read the actual document. And, when I've done that, I also like to (b) look at who paid for the study and if the authors have declared any potential conflicts of interests.

Considering the several paragraphs in the footnotes dedicated to the conflict of interest disclosure, I'll take this with a grain of salt.
The inside bit of the latest triple-layer tablets probably contains rinse aid - you may not need to add it to be exposed to it.
Interesting theory, however…

1) Apparently the organ damage was postulated from a simulation.
2) Apparently the study did not test what residual was actually left on dishes. They only looked at theoretical dilutions based upon rinses.
3) Apparently the study did not measure how much of that theoretically organ damaging chemical actually transfers to humans after consuming food on the dishes.

All in all, a pretty useless study. Yawn.
You don’t need rinse aid, use vinegar. I’ve only tried white vinegar, havent tried chili garlic balsamic vinegar yet
Baker Steve
This piece raises many questions in my mind: which models of dishwasher are worst, which makes of rinse aid are worse, do any rinse aids not contain alcohol ethoxylates, and perhaps most important of all, does rinse aid residue have any effects on the gut biome? I look forward to further research.
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